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I have had to work closely with a colleague on several projects. I am a very easy going, open and friendly person so when discussions got side tracked sometimes to personal life I went along with the conversations. Prior to going on maternity leave I had to travel for work with this same colleague and we had to also share a hotel room while away for a week. On our way home she mentioned that I was like a twin sister to her - this caught me off guard but I just replied that we most certainly are not. I didn't do anything more about this as I went off on maternity leave.

I am wondering how I should approach her upon returning as I will likely have to work on many projects with her upon my return to work. I get the feeling that she was offended by this comment as she didn't sign my card when my team sent me baby shower gift, she was the only one not to respond to my e-mail when I sent out a picture and a note of my new arrival.

I want to make sure that we can work together and it not be uncomfortable but I want to make it clear that she is not my best friend - we are work colleagues.

Update - thanks for all the comments howerever: I didn't want to go into too much detail as I didn't think it was necessary but I actually have a twin sister so that is the reason for my comment back to her. I certaintly didn't frown or say it rudely to her - I just matter of factly said that we are not twin sisters as I have one. In addition, she is lonely and doesn't have many close friends, especially not those who are women - in fact most people on my team - including the boss are very negative and abrupt with her (she does have a very assertive, confrontational appoach with people). She has tried on numerous accasions to get more invovled in my personal life while inviting me to get involved in hers, which I politely declined.

Her twin comment to me raised red flags and boarded on the creepy for me. I do not want to be more than just work colleagues but I want to have a friendly working relationship.

I think her not signing the card etc. Signals to me that she is hurt - I don't believe it was this actual comment itself - I think it is more about that while on pregnancy related sick leave and maternity leave I haven't been in contact with her (she assumed we were great friends, while I thought of her as a work colleague) and now I want to know how do I go back and smooth over her hurt feelings but at the same time have it be clear that I don't want to be friends?

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I'd apologize to her and claim pre-partuition hormones if you want any sort of working relationship with her. She's probably lonely. You can hold her at arms length, but there's no need to be so emphatic with her. Oh, and you probably want to give a more descriptive title. –  Amy Blankenship Feb 8 '13 at 4:42
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Do you think she meant "we are so similar, we could be sisters" or did she literally mean "you are my long-lost twin-sister, we have the same parents"? One is kinda cute, the other is very creepy. Also, I don't know what implication or connotation "twin sister" has in your culture. Was it the "twin sister" comparison itself that made you uncomfortable, or just the suggestion that you might have anything but a strictly coworker/coworker relationship (i.e. personal friendship)? Or were you uncomfortable even being compared to this person in any way? –  pap Feb 8 '13 at 12:04
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@AmyBlankenship - I would not place blame anywhere. Accept responsibility for your actions. I may not know how to solve the OP's problem but I do know that making excuses for it is not helpful. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Feb 8 '13 at 16:10
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I wouldn't think that was an insulting comment, and would be upset if someone took offense...but I also wouldn't have probably made the connection that if you have a sister already (especially if she's a twin) it could certainly sound offensive. It sounds like both of you interpreted each other's comments as unintentional slights. Perhaps a simple talk/apology and things will be set straight easier that you thought. –  DA. Feb 8 '13 at 17:29
    
Are you still certian she wants to be a personal friend? I would think that if she did she would have been in contact with you while you were on leave. I am not saying you do not have some damage control to do but you may not have the same problem you had before. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Feb 8 '13 at 18:24

3 Answers 3

On our way home she mentioned that I was like a twin sister to her

I just replied that we most certainly are not.

I get the feeling that she was offended by this comment

If it were me, I would have got offended too by your rude reply.
Poor girl - all she said was that she liked your company very much! So, what's the big deal in it? Did she ask you to live/sleep with her or become her girlfriend?

She merely told you her [non-harmful] personal opinion, and did NOT ask for yours. Did she ask - do you think of me the same way?, if not, then I don't see any reason of you to say "we most certainly are not".

You could have simply looked at her without a frown and without a word. This would have told her that you do like her but may not think of her the exact same way.

I want to make it clear that she is not my best friend - we are work colleagues.

I think you should apologize to her saying:

Not sure why I replied rudely that day, I am really sorry. I do indeed respect your feelings and also think of you as a great colleague. We surely are a great team in all our projects!

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Unfortunately so. Those who use hyperbolic metaphors probably should be prepared for people to take them literally and disagree, but generally aren't. It's absolutely not true that all she said is that she liked the questioner's company very much. "Twin sister" is, intentionally on the part of the speaker, a far stronger relationship than that. However, even if all she meant was "I like hanging out", people still don't enjoy being called on their exaggerations. So it's arguably rude to do so even when the "correction" is totally accurate. –  Steve Jessop Jun 4 at 16:20

I'd say play it by ear when you get back.

If she withdraws from personal contact, but not work collaboration - then leave it be. Stuff like congratulations emails and maternity cards are in that border zone between personal life and work. You know you don't want her in your personal life, you just want a good professional work relationship. She may be hurt, she may not be, but if she's only expressing it in terns of not reaching out to you personally then I'd say let it be.

If she's withdrawing/failing to collaborate professionally - if you come back from leave, and she's also behaving in a non-professional manner - not including you in work, not helping or going to you for help, - or in any way way not doing the things a good teammate/fellow professional would in terms of getting the work done, then you have a problem. Book some face to face, one on one time with her. You can apologize for unintetionally hurting her feelings, but stay clear that you want a separation between work and home life. It's really your call on whether you want to explain your feelings in light of the fact that you are actually a twin, and that's a very different relationship than the professional good will you have towards her. It's not necessarily an obligation - your feelings about your home life are your own and you're under no professional obligation to share. Point out where you see that your professional relationship has suffered, and ask for ways that you and she can fix that.

I know from experience that there's a whole realm of passive aggressive possiblities here, but you'll have to take it as it comes. As long as she's getting the work done and doing it correctly, you may have to put up with some amount of inhospitality. It sounds like if there are others in the office who are abrupt and who have had other issues with her, it may be that you want to back away a bit. Her being lonely isn't really your problem - as you say, you are not, and don't want to be, her friend.

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You know, there is nothing better than a clear conversation in cases of misunderstanding between two people. If you will hold up your feelings that would do no good to either of you. She misunderstood you for that Twin sister remark. May be you misunderstood her for that card thing. You need to clear things up. Go talk to her clearly. It is quite possible that your colleague is somewhat lonely and she sees a good friend in you. So I suggest that be a friend to her, but maintain your distance too when it is needed. If she is smart, she will understand, but if she is like either you are my sister or "I don't know you" then I suggest that stay away from her. But you can not be judgemental and you must clear things up before reaching a conclusion.

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protected by Monica Cellio Oct 23 '13 at 21:12

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